What Is Parkinson's Law and How to Overcome It?
Ironically, this quite reasonable approach is the common cause of low productivity. In this article, we explain what Parkinson’s Law is and how it affects our time management.
1. What is the point of Parkinson’s law?
Example 1. It takes a person half an hour to clean his apartment every day. This is enough time for him to keep the apartment tidy. However, if he allocates an hour for cleaning, it is highly likely that this is how long cleaning will take this time.
Example 2. A department has two managers who are struggle to cope with their duties. To make their lives easier, the company hires two more people for the department. Theoretically, the workload of each employee should be halved. In fact, it doesn’t happen: managers are still busy all day long.
The article soon became popular all over the world. The rule stated in it has since been called "Parkinson's law" or "Parkinson's first law". The author of the article later wrote a book on this topic, in which he also described other laws of development of modern organizations.
2. How does the law work in time management and why do we "follow" it?
Parkinson’s Law is relevant not only for organizations, but also for personal time management. Here are some typical situations in which it can be encountered:
- Schedule. The more time is allotted to a task, the longer it takes to complete it. Let’s assume that a manager needs an hour to write a report. If he or she allocates two hours for this task, it will probably take them that long to complete the task. The time margin allows us to get distracted, work slowly and fall into perfectionism.
- Deadline. The more time before the deadline, the slower the work on the project goes. A typical example: if a freelancer has a week to complete a task, he or she will engage in it actively only on the day before the deadline.
- Workday. The workday will always be busy, no matter how long it is.
❌ Trap 1. "Timing is good"
The point of the trap is that people tend to evaluate their own and others' work through time spent on it. For example:
- Were you working for ten hours? Good for you!
- Were you working for six hours? Not so good.
- Were you working for only two hours? Not good at all.
❌ Trap 2. "Punishment by work"
The correct answer is none. Instead of a reward, there will be a "punishment" of the next batch of tasks. This effect is especially significant in commercial and government organizations, where productivity is usually "rewarded" with a new assignment or new responsibilities.
These traps combined lead to an involuntary urge to procrastinate. So why should you rush? As long as you work, you are doing great (trap 1). If you finish earlier, you’ll immediately start a new task (trap 2).
In general, Parkinson’s Law has a negative impact on our lives.
First, we work unreasonably slowly. As a result, we fail to achieve the results we could potentially achieve.
Second, work remains work. As it grows, it takes time intended for rest, leisure and family.
3. How to overcome Parkinson’s Law?
1. Give yourself rewards for being productive rather than punishments
If you have completely fulfilled the plan for the day, don’t set new tasks, but stop working. A well-deserved rest at the end of the day is one of the strongest sources of motivation for a person.
This strategy changes your attitude towards work. You gradually lose the desire to procrastinate, and you become eager to get things done faster.
2. Focus on results, not time span
Let’s assume you are writing a book or a term thesis. Daily work on the text can be scheduled in two ways:
- Based on time span ("Write a book — 2 hours").
- Based on the result ("Write 500 words").
The second method of planning doesn’t create such temptations: until the goal is achieved, you have no right to check off the task. It doesn’t matter whether the work takes 2 hours or 15 minutes.
Such result-oriented statements can be picked up for most tasks. Let’s compare:
3. Limit infinite tasks
To prevent such tasks from prolonging, it can be helpful to set a time budget for them right away. The budget can be specified directly in the statements:
4. Reduce the time you spend on tasks
Let’s assume that it usually takes you 30 minutes to complete a task. Now, allocate 25 minutes and try to finish it in time (you can use a timer).
Firstly, it stimulates you to work a little faster. Secondly, this way you can check your work for Parkinson’s law and understand whether this task was performed rationally before.
5. Set interim deadlines
Let’s say you have a week to write an article. This is roughly what the work plan lookы like in the electronic planner:
6. Reserve time for rest
And one more tip: to overcome Parkinson’s law more effectively, try scheduling your tasks not on paper, but in electronic planners. Modern programs, such as SingularityApp, allow you to set strict time limits for any work. You will be able to record its start time and deadline, rigidly schedule individual steps and add reminders to them.
All this will help to have maximum control over the progress of the work and avoid unnecessary loss of time.